The Colombian Coffee Triangle - The Past and Future of Colombia’s Most Famous Coffee Producing Region

Amazing coffee isn’t just grown in the Colombian Coffee Triangle. As we’ve discussed before, you’ll find it produced in several places throughout the country, from Santander to Choco (just take a look at the table below for a list of major coffee-producing locations). 

Yet, when coffee enthusiasts first visit the country, the Coffee Triangle, also known as the Coffee Axis or ‘Eje Cafetero’, is where many people start.

We explore the reasons for this, how the region has become such an important hub for the national Colombian coffee trade, and some of the major issues faced by farmers here — considered in many respects to be on the frontline of the country’s battle with the effects of climate change.

Major Coffee Producing Regions in Colombia

Map of Colombian coffee producing regions

Antioquia

Bolivar

Boyaca

Caldas

Caqueta

Casanare

Cauca

Cesar

Choco

Cundinamarca

Guajira

Huila

Magdalena

Meta

Nariño

Norte de Santander

Putumayo

Quindio

Risaralda

Santander

Tolima

Valle

Where Is the Colombian Coffee Triangle?

Map of Colombian coffee triangle capital cities

The Coffee Triangle typically refers to three departments: Caldas, Quindio, and Risaralda. And the capital cities of these departments are Manizales, Pereira and Armenia, respectively. Together, the region is known nationally for its natural wealth and longstanding dedication to the coffee trade. 

Although coffee growing takes place in many more places throughout the country, the triangle is considered to demonstrate specific growing conditions, cultural practices and a relatively consistent landscape (steep mountain ranges with vertiginous slopes) that have become symbolic of the Colombian way of producing coffee. 

Astonishingly, nearly a third of coffee production within the country happens here, and its major cities are strongholds for a century-old tradition of coffee farming, where communities are intrinsically connected with this agricultural product and, more recently, the resultant tourist industry that has developed here. 

Department

Capital City

Caldas

Manizales

Risaralda

Pereira

Quindío

Armenia

What Is the “Coffee Cultural Landscape”?

A more recent term used to describe some of the major coffee-producing areas in Colombia is the “Coffee Cultural Landscape”. Encompassing many of the same cities and coffee farms as the triangle, it’s a more exact collection of locations recognised for their consistency in cultural practices, history and coffee growing traditions. 

Located in the central and western foothills of the Andes mountain range, it includes 47 municipalities and 411 villages (veredas) within Caldas, Quindío, Risaralda and Valle del Cauca. 

Conservationists and international groups have also recognised the beauty of the physical landscape, which was awarded UNESCO heritage status in 2011 and is considered nationally as home to some of the country’s most prized natural treasures. 

The Coffee Cultural Landscape was awarded UNESCO heritage status in 2011

Growing Conditions in the Colombian Coffee Triangle

Landscape photo of the Colombian Coffee Triangle

One of the obvious reasons the triangle has become such a prominent hub within the country is the conditions it offers for coffee cultivation. The combination of rain and mild temperatures make the region one of the most accommodating places for coffee growing on the planet, with several other factors also contributing to its suitability. 

  • The height of the Andes and the convection of the two pressure systems create an immense amount of rainfall that supports more prolonged harvest periods throughout the year

  • Altitudes for coffee farms in the region can exceed 2,000 in some cases with the average altitude somewhere around 1,500 masl. And this helps to sustain the cooler temperatures needed for more gradual bean maturation

  • Rich volcanic soil provides beneficial nutrients and minerals for the coffee plant

The Human Element

A farm within the Colombian coffee triangle amidst steep mountainous landscape

Due to the unique nature of the region and its steep slope gradients, specialised farming and harvesting practices have been developed to meet the need for manual growing and harvesting practices. As machine-led processes are unsuitable for the terrain, farms have long relied on human effort to maximise the potential of coffee growing here, which has been beneficial for the quality of coffee beans in several ways. 

For instance, manual selective harvesting of the coffee plant throughout the year means pickers only ever take beans that have reached an optimum state of ripeness — protecting the integrity of each batch.

  • Farmers in this region have long been aware that the increased cost of manual coffee production can be offset by the increased value of their coffee in the international market, encouraging them to further refine their processes to produce higher quality beans

  • Colombian farms are known to be small and managed with care, often by individual farmers or groups of farmers working together, with the average size of a coffee farm around 4.6 hectares, of which only 2.6 hectares is used for growing coffee

    Farmers are aware that the increased cost of manual coffee production can be offset by the increased value of their coffee in the international market.

    Interested In How this Relates to the Third Wave Coffee Movement?

    A Family Connection to the Land

    The predominance of small production farms and the way rural land ownership is divided up between individual families has allowed the tradition of coffee growing to pass down from generation to generation, with many communities continuing the work of their parents and grandparents.

    It’s common for entire families to help out with the labour required for coffee production, with family centred activities supplemented by seasonal contracted workers. These farms are often lived on and maintained throughout the year, with a great amount of importance placed on the performance of the crop. 

    Essentially, the landscape is consumed by coffee cultivation, not just as a means of generating an income but also the primary source of work for many communities — central to so many people’s lives. And through this, the deep rootedness of the coffee culture has continued until today.

    Conservation of traditional techniques, an understanding of the importance of the coffee industry, and a collective experience that connects many different communities contributes to the social landscape of the triangle.

    Learn More About Why We Believe Colombian Coffee Beans Are So Special

    The Outlook for Colombia’s Coffee Triangle

    Closeup of beans drying on patio in Colombian coffee triangle

    Various initiatives from the national government as well as coffee growing organisations and charities have been committed to conserving the Colombian Coffee Triangle and communities that exist here. However, the region faces several major issues that threaten its future. 

    Ageing Coffee Producers

    The passing down of skills and knowledge is an important part of how communities in this region continue to develop profitable harvests each year. There are many specific techniques and strategies for soil maintenance and harvesting that are specific to the area.

    Ageing coffee producers and the low uptake of the coffee growing profession by younger Colombians is one of the biggest challenges for the sustainability of the region.

    With more younger people moving to larger cities to explore new opportunities and careers, there’s a growing shortage of precious labour to sustain the work that needs to be done on farms throughout the year, as well as a break in the flow of knowledge, skill and tradition down to a new generation of coffee growers.

    Ageing coffee producers and the low uptake of the coffee growing profession by younger Colombians  is one of the biggest challenges for the sustainability of the region.

    Natural Disasters

    Coffee growers in particularly steep parts of the coffee triangle face several threats, including landslides, flooding, overflowing rivers, avalanches and even volcanic eruptions. The disruption of transport routes due to these events can also seriously affect how product is moved throughout the region and prepared for export. 

    Local Development

    The development of rural areas and the existence of modern comforts plays an increasingly important role in the quality of life for people in this region and the likelihood of younger generations staying around to continue the work of their parents. 

    While many locations already have access to the internet, some simply do not. And with many farms located in quite remote and hard to reach places, development in these areas will still take time.

    Labour Shortages 

    As well as initially disrupting supply chains and preventing the export of goods, Covid-19 and lockdown measures have contributed to the lack of labour needed for seasonal coffee harvesting. With migrant workers unable to cross borders as easily from neighbouring countries or within Colombia, many farms have been left without the capacity they need to maintain profitable coffee production. 

    Climate Change

    Perhaps the biggest concern for many is climate change and the unpredictable weather patterns that continue to disrupt coffee production. 

    This has had several major impacts on Colombian coffee farms, such as lower coffee yields from previously optimal locations; the increased risks of floods, droughts, and invasive pests (and the resultant use of pesticides that contaminate water supplies); and, shifting temperature and levels of rainfall. 

    Even small changes in a farm’s climate can seriously disrupt a farmer’s ability to produce profitable crops that make working the land worth it. 

    Discover Coffee from the Colombian Coffee Triangle

    Photo of Hermanos owner Santiago drinking coffee in Colombian coffee triangle

    So much of what we love about Colombian coffee is the tradition and culture of the communities responsible for growing the coffee we love. The lives of so many people are tied by their connection to coffee growing and there’s an incredibly strong network of shared experience to be found here. 

    As the home of many of the country's oldest and most respected coffee farms, we’ll always appreciate beans grown in the coffee triangle. And although we’re constantly looking for new farms and growers across the whole country, the rich history of this region, the way communities collaborate to keep the tradition alive, and the awe-inspiring natural beauty of this part of the world will always mean something to us as advocates of single origin Colombian coffee beans

     

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